HOW THE DEATH OF CHRIST SAVES US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-16-86 10:50 a.m.
And we welcome you who share the hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled How the Death of Christ Saves Us. It is an exposition of a short passage out of the heart of the third chapter of John. And we invite you to turn in your Bible, we will read our text together. Turn in your Bible to John chapter 3; we shall read verses 14 through 18. John chapter 3, verses 14 through 18: now let us read it all out loud together, John 3:14-18:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God send not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.
He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
And our passage, “For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal, unending life” [John 3:14-15].
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness [Numbers 21:8-9], even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” [John 3:14], high and conspicuous, between heaven and earth; but lifted up, not as on a throne in Herod’s palace or on a dais in the court of the Roman Caesar, lifted up high and conspicuous, like a brazen serpent, dead, on a pole, slain for the healing of the people [Numbers 21:8-9]. The exaltation and the ascension of our Lord high and gloriously is assured and certain; it is ordained of God. He is given a name which is above every name [Philippians 2:9], that in all things He might have the pre-eminence, above all principalities and powers of things present or to come, things in heaven and in earth [Colossians 1:16, 18]. But this dignity and place of power and glory is to be attained not by political popularity or heredity title or by the choice of the people. Lifted up, glorified, as a sacrifice offered for the healing of the nation [John 11:50]. Lifted up, glorified [John 3:14], not by the prowess of military arms and conquest, but by a sinless One dying for the sinful [1 Corinthians 15:3], the just dying for the unjust [1 Peter 3:18]. Lifted up, high and conspicuous, a place of glory and honor and dignity; but by blood and by sacrifice and by suffering [John 3:14-15], like a serpent, dead, on a pole [Numbers 21:8-9].
The story begins in a plague; death in sin. It seemed as though the whole world were filled with those fiery, venomous vipers [Numbers 21:6-7]. The whole family of the human race, open to the strike of the asp and the scorpion and the adder. They were everywhere, those small slender tenuous serpents. The bite was such as could hardly be seen, but the result inside was feverish and fatal, convulsive, deathly. Sin is a horrible reality. It is unmistakable. It is universal. It is unmitigated. It enters every house and every home and every heart and every life; the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlearned, all alike, sinners, condemned, dying. It’s the old time doctrine of total depravity: not that we are as vile as we could be, but that sin has entered all of our faculties, all of our emotions; we are a fallen people. However it may be extenuated, or discussed, or philosophized, the human race is like that one on whose shoulders climbed the old man of the sea, and choked him to death. Our cemeteries, and our penitentiaries, and our jails, and the tears and sorrows of life are nothing but a vast amen to the universal fact of sin. Its terrible consequences are unrelenting, unmitigated.
The strongest man who ever lived, Samson, they bound him, and they put out his eyes, and he did grind at the prison mill [Judges 16:21]. Sin binds, and it blinds, and it grinds, and it grinds. The wisest man who ever lived, turned aside by foreign alliances [1 Kings 11:9], bequeathed to his son a divided and miserable kingdom [1 Kings 12:1-19]. The best man, the finest man, after God’s own heart man [1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22], David, Nathan the prophet said, “And the sword shall never leave thy house” [2 Samuel 12:10]. The story of David is written in blood and tears, in sorrow and strife, in incest and rape, in violence and in death. And we are helpless before it. No man is equal, no government, no civilization, no culture, no educational process can deliver us from it.
The earth is thousands and thousands of years old, and generations have come and gone; but we’re still lost and undone. Mankind has lifted itself out of ignorance and poverty, superstition, all of the plagues of darkness; but we’re still just as lost as when our first parents were cast out of the garden of Eden [Exodus 3:22-24]. With all of our boasted achievement, we are the same spiritually as we were when Cain slew his brother Abel [Genesis 4:8], and when the Flood destroyed the world in the days of Noah [Genesis 7:1-23]. Who can deliver us, and who can save us, and what shall we do?
What an amazing, unbelievable message in this text! The healing and the saving and the delivering is like the disease itself: it’s a serpent raised high on a pole [Numbers 21:8-9]. One of the most unusual things to be observed in human history is the caduceus: a serpent entwined around a pole, a sign, universal, of healing and health and hope. Whether it be on the doctor’s office or his stationary, on the sign signifying the hospital, or the surgeon, or the pharmacist, the sign of healing for thousands of years, and universal, is a serpent lifted high on a pole. Not just another snake that deserved to die, not just another snake, just reminding us how many others there were still alive; but a brazen serpent, emblematic of all of them, there on a pole, limp, dead, lifeless, its fangs extracted.
So with our Lord, the blessed, blessed Jesus: sinless, pure, holy, undefiled, separate from sinners; not just another sinner who should die for his guilt, not just another crucified thief, but the pure and holy and blessed Lord Jesus, representative of all mankind, absorbing in Himself the poison and venom of all of our iniquity and transgressions [Isaiah 53:5], and raised high, dead, limp, so certainly dead there was no need of a second blow, and not a bone was broken [John 19:31-33]. Dead. Raised up beneath the sky. “Our Lord made sin for us, He who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. And the wonderful, incomparably precious word of salvation, “Look and live.” Salvation from sin, “Look and live” [Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-15]. Mediated to us by a moral act, “Turn and look.” Less could not have been required, the simplest of all that God could have provided, and more by some could not have been offered: dead and dying, all they could do was just turn and look. But that was enough. It was sufficient. It was enough before God: the man who turned and looked, submitted himself to the way of the Lord, he bowed his will before the will of God, he looked in hope and in expectation and in promise, just to look [Numbers 21:8-9].
We don’t explain God. We don’t explain the atonement. We don’t explain the purposes and the ways of the great Almighty Sovereign of heaven. We just turn, and look, and accept, and believe, and trust. We are saved by hope, by faith, by commitment, by looking [Isaiah 45:22]. And how simple and how effectively precious and powerful, just to look. Like that woman with an issue of blood: “If I but touch the hem of His garment, I will be saved” [Matthew 9:20-21]. Just touch. Like the thief on the cross: “If I turn my head and ask, He will remember me” [Luke 23:42-43]. Just turn and ask. Like the publican, “Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner” [Luke 18:13].
There is life for a look at the crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
[“There is Life for a Look,” Amelia M. Hull]
Look and live [Isaiah 45:22].
As some of you know, I read Spurgeon all the time. He is the greatest preacher who ever lived. At twenty-two years of age, he was by far the most famous preacher in the world, at twenty-two. There was no place large enough to accommodate the crowds that thronged, that sought to hear him. The Crystal Palace in London, at that time, seated twenty thousand people. And you couldn’t get in for the throng listening to that youth, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Where did he come from? And how was he saved? Burdened with the sense of sin and guilt, he sought the face of the Lord, and was so in despair, “How can I be saved?” Let him tell us in his own words:
I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now, had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning, when I was going to a certain place of worship. I turned down a side street and came to a little primitive Methodist church. In that chapel there may have been a dozen people.
I have sought out that little side street, walked into that little primitive Methodist chapel, read the big bronze plaque underneath the gallery where that young man was seated, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up. At last a very thin looking man, a shoemaker, a tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. He was obliged to stick to his text. The text was, ‘Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth’ [Isaiah 45:22]. He did not even pronounce the words rightly. That didn’t matter; there was, I thought, maybe a glimmer of hope in that text for me. The preacher began thus: ‘This is a very simple text indeed. It says, “Look.” Now looking don’t take no deal of pain; it ain’t lifting up your foot or your finger, it is just, “Look.” Well, a man needn’t go to college to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to look; anyone can look. Even a child can look. Then the text says, “Look unto Me.” Aye,’ he said in broad Essex, ‘many a ye are looking to yourselves, but it’s no use looking there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Jesus Christ says, “Look unto Me.” Some of ye say, “We must wait for the Spirit’s working.” Ye have no business with that just now, look to Christ. The text says, “Look unto Me.’” Then the fellow followed up his text in this way: ‘Look unto Me, I am sweating great drops of blood. Look unto Me, I am hanging on a cross. Look unto Me, I’m dead and buried. Look unto Me, I am risen again. Look unto Me, I ascend to heaven. Look unto Me, I am sitting on the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me, look unto Me.’ When he had managed to spin out about ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, ‘Young man, you look so miserable.’ Well, I did. He continued: ‘And you will always be miserable; miserable in life and miserable in death if you don’t obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.’ Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, ‘Young man, look to Jesus, look, look, look! You have nothing to do but to look and live!’
Spurgeon continues: “I saw at once the way of salvation. I had been waiting to do fifty different things; but when I heard that word ‘look,’ what a glorious word it seemed to me! Oh, I looked until I could have looked my eyes away!”
As he continues he quotes from William Cowper’s great song; and it’s inscribed on the side of the sarcophagus that holds his casket:
E’er since, by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply
Redeeming love has been my theme,
and shall be till I die.
[“There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” William Cowper]
I thought I could have sprung from the seat in which I sat, and have called out with the wildest of those Methodist brethren, ‘I am forgiven, I am forgiven.’ Oh monument of grace, a sinner saved by blood. My spirit saw its chains broken to pieces. I felt that I was an emancipated soul, an heir of heaven, a forgiven one, accepted in Christ Jesus, plucked out of the miry clay, out of the horrible pit, with my feet set upon a rock.
That is the conversion of the greatest preacher who ever lived. Just look, just look:
I’ve a message from the Lord, hallelujah!
It is only that you look and live.
“Look and live,” my brother, live.
Look to Jesus Christ, and live;
‘Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”
[“Look and Live,” William Ogden]
What a glorious gospel promise and message. A child can be saved. I was. The humblest and feeblest can be saved. Look. Anybody can look. And that’s God’s message to us this day. There are many, many overtones of the Christian faith; depths of theological knowledge into which these learned scholars probe, and seek, and see, and write. Oh, the riches of the glory of God in Christ Jesus! [Ephesians 3:16-21]. But to be saved, to have your sins washed away [Ephesians 1:7; Revelation 1:5], your name written in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], always and ever it is that simple: just look and live, turn, accept, believe, trust, and you’ll be somebody new and somebody else. Look and live [Isaiah 45:22; John 3:14-18].
We’re praying today, this precious minute, when we stand and sing our hymn of appeal, that you will do just that. This precious moment, looking to Jesus, by faith and trust opening your heart to the grace and love and forgiveness of the Son of God [Ephesians 2:8-9]; that there’ll be a family you that today will place life and home in the circle of our dear church; that there’ll be others of you answering the call of God in your heart. Make that decision now. Do it now. And when we stand to sing, on the first note of that first stanza, that first step will be the most meaningful you could ever take in your life. Come, and welcome.
Now may we pray together?
Our dear Lord in heaven, had the way been hard and devious and difficult and circuitous, there are many of us who might not have found it. But oh the goodness and the grace of our blessed Savior, just simply, “Come, and follow Me” [Matthew 19:16, 21]. Dear God, how could one refuse the suffering and the death and the wounds of our Lord, all for us? [1 Corinthians 15:3]. How sweet, beautiful, precious the invitation of our Lord: “Come and see, look and live [John 3:14-18], follow and be saved, trust and go to heaven” [Acts 16:30-31]. Dear God, in this moment of appeal, may there be many who turn, who heed, who hear, who look, who are saved. O blessed Jesus, make this a moment of decision and salvation; and we will love Thee and praise Thee for the answered prayer, and for every soul You give us. In Thy dear and saving name, amen.
Now, when we stand and sing, come. In the balcony, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me; and I’m on the way.” While we stand and while we sing, “Here I am, and here I come.”